THE drenching rain across parts of NSW, Queensland and Victoria in December and January helped set the stage for an extraordinary opening to cattle sales, in both store and physical markets, for NSW and Victoria.

January commenced with rainfall in the Riverina and outer regions of up to 300 millimetres. The extensive rain raised the hopes of producers who were struggling to cope with the debilitating dry spell in some regions.

The biggest issue up until the deluge of rain was surface water, with reports of producers destocking sections of farm land in order to alleviate the shortage of ground water. The most affected areas of the Riverina were from Wagga Wagga to Hay in NSW.

Victoria’s Annual Blue Ribbon weaner store sales in January got off to an unprecedented start, reflecting the unusual rain event across the eastern states. Early sales of up to $1100 a head for yearling steers were more the rule than the exception. Over 65,000 cattle were sold at store sales throughout Victoria for the month of January with two thirds of the cattle trucked to various destinations throughout NSW and Queensland.

At Wodonga a large contingent of store buyers travelled from Queensland, northern NSW and the New England, while feedlots were well represented from both states. Despite the large field of restockers, feedlot buyers were the market drivers and dominated most categories, which forced restockers to compete for the lighter weight steers.

Steers purchased by lot feeders reached a top price of $1170/head, to average 241¢/kg lwt. Medium weight Steers returning to the paddock averaged 250¢ to 257¢, with the lighter weight portion reaching a top price of 282¢/kg lwt, an estimated live weight equivalent of $886/head. A significant portion of the lighter weight steers were purchased by store buyers from Dubbo, Moree, Walcha, Inverell, Tamworth, Armidale, Glenn Innes and Benambra.

Interestingly, the number of females offered at the annual store sales had notably declined to previous years, which resulted in stronger competition over all weight classes. The bulk of well-bred heifers to feed on made from 211¢ to 239¢, to average 229¢/kg lwt. Heifers purchased by producers topped at $885/head, with only limited numbers returning to the paddock.

Rain inspired restockers and lot feeder buyers at physical markets in January as supplies tightened in Queensland and northern NSW. The physical markets opened strongly with lot feeder demand driving prices significantly higher. The higher prices led to a record yarding of 7,057 head at Wagga, and over 3,700 steers and heifers were purchased for grain feeding, while many lighter weight cattle returned to the paddock. Steers to place on feed, weighing 400kg to 500kg, averaged 236¢, reaching a top price of 249¢/kg. Medium weight heifers suitable to lot feed averaged 218¢/kg lwt.

Confidence, driven by northern rain, lifted cattle numbers at Wodonga mid-way through the month to 5045 head. Prices through January were very solid over all categories, with bidding intensifying from lot feeders. Last week however, prices lost traction with falls generally between 15¢ to 22¢/kg, with plainer cattle most affected. There were several lot feeder orders absent from the market which contributed to the cheaper trend for cattle which lacked finish.

While northern export processors remained under pressure for numbers, both Wagga and Wodonga’s cow supplies surged on the back of strengthening markets further north. Wodonga’s cow market broke their long standing record with the market offering 2,060 cow’s mid-way through January.

The substantial increase in numbers did test the market, with prices slipping 17¢ to 23¢/kg. Last week cow numbers halved to 1,021 head at Wodonga and prices lifted 17¢ to 35¢, to average 400¢/kg cwt for heavy well finished lines. Store cows have been keenly sought at both Wagga and Wodonga markets over January with a significant portion purchased by Dubbo and Forbes producers.

Light weight young cows returning to the paddock weighing 375kg reached a top price of 196¢/kg lwt, the equivalent of $735.28/head.

The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator is at a record 451.25c a kilogram today, up from 340c in November.

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